Shifty Business

New York Times, June 7

I can’t believe how long it took me to figure out this puzzle.

Me, a proud owner of a 5-speed Mazda 3. Me, who has never owned an automatic in her life. Me, who had half the theme clues solved but still had trouble getting my mind in gear … a-ha!

The first part of this puzzle revolved around deducing the words — not letters — that fit in the seven circles. The answer to 33 Across (“Teacher’s question at the start of show-and-tell) yielded WHO’S (FIRST), which crossed nicely with 5 Down (“Witnessed”), SEEN (FIRST) HAND.  In the other corner, (FIFTH) ACTS (38 Across, “Endings for Shakespeare”) meshed with SAKS (FIFTH) AVENUE (15 Down, “It opened in Manhattan in 1924”). 

This whole time I’m thinking, “Shifty? Like the Shift key on the keyboard?” Anyway, long story short (too late), this shifty business is a 5-speed gearbox. But in this day and age of fully automatic everything, I wonder how many solvers got the reference. I’m sure quite a few young drivers have never seen, much less driven, a stick shift.

The central circle, of course, represented NEUTRAL: 67 Across (“Doesn’t care either way”) is TAKES A (NEUTRAL) STANCE, while 48 Down was the amusing ODOR (NEUTRAL)IZER (“It freshens the air.”) The final circle, at 103 Across, was REVERSE.

And I wonder if puzzle constructor Jeremy Newton got a bonus for fitting in the name of his client in 94 Across: NY TIMES (“Big Apple daily, in brief.”)

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

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